Palestinians shut down a second int’l aid organization to demand action on dying hunger strikers

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Hunger striker Tha’er Halahleh’s father protesting on Thursday, May, 10, 2012 outside of the ICRC building in Ramallah. 

For the second day in a row Palestinians shut down the offices of an international organization in Ramallah, expressing dissatisfaction over a lack of action on behalf of 2500 Palestinians in their fourth week of a hunger strike against conditions of Israeli detention and imprisonment. Families of the dissident prisoners organized today’s action, which follows yesterday’s closure of a United Nations building, also in Ramallah. 

And across the region additional protests were staged at Ofer prison, Megiddo prison, el-Krom, Haifa and Yaffa. 

Protestor outside of the ICRC. (Photo: @occupy2gether)

“We are targeting those who we believe can help to bring an end to the hunger strike and save the lives of our prisoners,” said protester and activist Ahmad, who requested his last name not be used.

After the protesters blocked the entrance of the International Committee for the Red Cross, the aid organization issued a video response.

Elpida Papachatzi, with the ICRC’s protection department for Israel and the occupied territories, addressed protesters’ concerns on camera.

“We ask the detainee authority to transfer actually those detainees who have been on hunger strike for long term without delay.” She continued: “We urgently request the Israeli authorities to allow detainees on long term hunger strike to receive visits from their families.”

Additionally, Papachatzi said the ICRC meets with prisoners on long term hunger strike and after the visits, “we share oral messages with the families of the detainees.” And, “at the end of each visit we share our findings with the Israeli authorities in a confidential and bi-lateral discussion,” said Papachatzi.

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(Photo: @occupy2gether)

At today’s ICRC protest, a group of between 10 and 12 demonstrators were present, including the father of long term hunger striker Tha’er Halahleh, who along with Bilal Diab is now in the 74th day of fast. Both Halahleh and Diab are edging closer to death. In-depth information about their health has not been widely reported, as both hunger strikers have been denied regular visits by independent physicians from Doctors without Borders.

Providing insight on their deteriorating conditions, today the Telegraph published a letter written two days ago by Halahleh, to his family:

To his parents, he wrote: “I salute you from the middle of the battle and from the depth of my suffering. My morale is very high and my will very strong. Do not worry about me.”

Turning to his wife Shireen and his daughter Namer, born a fortnight after his arrest two years ago, he added: “I cannot explain with words my love for you. I do this for the sake of God and my homeland, my wife and my daughter. Take care of her and take care of your health and forgive me that I cannot be there to hug you.”

But in a letter to his lawyer on the same day, he struck a more sombre note, writing that he had lost more than 50lb.

“I have inflammation in my hands. It comes and goes. I’m bleeding in my stomach and from my gums. I have mouth ulcers and my muscles are shrinking — I feel my body has stopped operating normally,” he wrote.

“My excrement is black and I feel very cold. The doctors have been insulting. One told me: ‘I hope you die.'”

Earlier this week, Halahleh and Diab appealed their sentences to an Israeli military judge. The court ruled to extend their detention and re-interrogate both hunger strikers, stating, “hunger strikes are not relevant to decide on length of administrative detention as such.” Without hesitation, activists said the ruling was a “death sentence.” Later that same day reports circulated that both hunger strikers had received an offer from the Israeli authorities to end their imprisonment, conditioned by deportation to Gaza. The Palestine Information Centre (PIC) was notified on the deal through Azzam Diab, brother of Bilal Diab. The PIC reported:

Detainee Azzam Diab, the brother of Bilal, said that he was surprised at the presence of Askalan jail wardens in his cell on Sunday morning. He said that they asked him to go with them to Ramle prison hospital to convince his brother and Halahle to agree to end their strike in return for their deportation to Gaza.

For decades, Israel has used deportation as a mechanism to squash the dissidence of prisoners with rumbling stomachs. During the first Intifada busloads of prisoners, sometimes hundreds were transported over the borders of both Israel and the West Bank into Lebanon.  And in 1992, Israel deposited 400 Palestinians in Lebanon, handing them each $50 and some clothes as they exited their homeland. More recently, former hunger striker Hana Shalabi, whose protest lasted 43 days, was expelled to Gaza upon her release.

Critics of Israel’s deportation policy denounced the practice as a violation of the 4th Geneva Convention, which prohibits moving populations across state lines. Both Halahleh and Diab rejected Israel’s proposal, opting to continue striking against their administrative detention, or imprisonment without charge.

In addition to Halahleh and Diab, six other long-term hunger strikers are in critical condition. They are Hassan Safadi- Day 68 of hunger strike; Omar Abu Shalal; Day 66 of hunger strike; Mohammad Taj; Day 55 of hunger strike_Jaafar Azzedine; Day 51 of hunger strike; Mahmoud Sarsak; Day 50 of hunger strike; Abdullah Barghouti; Day 30 of hunger strike.

Prisoners are demanding their most basic rights from the Israeli authorities, including family visits and an end to solitary confinement, or isolation. There are a total of 19 Palestinian prisoners locked behind iron doors in isolation, including Mahmoud Issa who has spent a decade in solitary confinement. In an unexpected move today, Israeli prison authorities offered to release Issa along with 15 others, from isolation. The terms of their reintroduction into the general prison population are not yet confirmed.

But, for Ahmad who joined the prisoners’ families outside of the ICRC building today, the pressure to release those in isolation did not come from international monitors, rather “all of the pressure came from behind bars.”

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